2012 Harley Davidson Switchback Ride Review

We ride the new 2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback.


Harley-Davidson Switchback Review

Harley-Davidson has many models, often specifically focused in one area, touring, cruising – even drag racing. The new 2012 Switchback is a genuine dual purpose machine, part “around town” cruiser, part tourer. The secret to its success – the quickly and easily removable screen and hard bags.

We had the opportunity to sample the new Switchback with an invite to the Australian launch on Queensland’s sunny Sunshine Coast, cruising the freeways, rolling through the beautiful hinterland, and even scratching through some corners. My favourite Harley has long been the Road King, a big bruiser of a motorcycle that is surprisingly nimble in the corners given its size and weight. It also has that classic Harley-Davidson look and feel.


The Switchback, based on the Dyna range, could almost be called a scaled down version of the Road King. We were fortunate enough to wrangle the loan of a Road King a while back, Rebecca rode it from Sydney up to the Gold Coast, and then I yanked the screen off and roared around with reckless abandon for a few weeks on the big tourer. That’s where the Switchback comes in, it’s easily removed touring screen and bags transform it from a semi-serious tourer to a city street or back road blaster.

switchback-detailBased on the Dyna series, the Switchback runs the 103 cube motor coupled to a six speed trans, on this model using a two into one exhaust. Harley’s recently added “HD-LAN” is used as well, which along with ABS, and fuel injection means it may look retro, but it has a core of technology helping it along. HD- LAN, introduced on the Blackline, uses a computer to control the electrics on the bike. Simplified, it uses the same wires to control lots of different things, meaning a much slimmer wiring system, with better control.

The 103 cube big twin puts out a modest 66 horses, but 135 stump pulling newton metres (100 ft/lbs) of torque at just 3500 rpm. An aftermarket exhaust and intake would add a little more of course, along with making it sound a bit nicer. Having said that, the standard 2-1 muffler had a muted rumble that wasn’t displeasing, just a tick too quiet for my taste.

The very comfortable seat is a low 665mm; the bars are mini apes on rear set risers, which make for a pretty nice riding position for most size riders.

So, what’s it like to ride? A decent and easy handler, the Switchback steers nicely, and provides a very stable and predictable cornering experience. Yes, those floorboards touch down a bit sooner than you’d like, but that is normal fare for this style of bike, and given they do fold up, you could get some extra lean going even after the scraping noises and sparks start flying. Overall I was more than happy with the Switchback through all levels of pace that our launch ride provided.

The front forks are new 41.3mm items, with “triple something” springs and cartridge damping in one leg. The rear holds up with 36mm mono tube shocks featuring adjustable preload. Mid corner bumps were soaked up nicely. Brakes were good, perhaps a little more initial feel would be nice, but again these types of things are subjective, depending on what other bikes you may have ridden straight beforehand. Yes, a 600 supersport handles better, but I know which bike I would prefer to cross the continent on, or arrive on at a party attended by large amounts of single women. Horses for courses. Compared to quite a few of the Japanese cruisers, the Switchback is a fine handling machine.


Appearance wise, the Switchback certainly looks a lot like its big brother, the Road King. There is one thing that really stands out on the Switchback – the wheels. Cast aluminium, the front 5 spoker is reminiscent of a 60’s style hot rod front runner. I liked it a lot, other’s opinions varied. Front guard is a deeply scalloped number, again Road King-ish. The big chrome locomotive headlight is there as well, this time made from weight saving alloy, with that removable screen a little smaller/lower than the King’s.

You will either like the screen or not. I don’t like them, and much prefer the clean air you get without one. However, on Rebecca’s recent ride up from Sydney on the Road King, freezing cold rainy conditions had her singing the praise of the screen. I think the head height of the rider on the bike has a bit to do with this as well. Either way, you can try it on and off repeatedly, a clever spring clip arrangement means you can add or remove the screen in about 10 seconds flat, without even needing any tools. Bags are slightly more fiddly, but again, no tools required. I personally would leave the bags on, it is great having plenty of room to throw stuff in.


The fuel tank holds 17.79 litres, so range will be decent. Right in the top of the tank is a big round 5″ (125mm) speedo, which has a small multi-function LCD inset that you scroll through various trip/mileage/rpm functions. There is no fuel gauge, and on this model, no top gear indicator light.

As outlined by Scott Caine, H-D’s Australian Tech Manager, the design effort that went into the Switchback focused on weight reduction, and rideability. The result speaks for itself, 30 kilograms lighter than a Road King, with a 10mm lower seat height. Paint and chrome quality is top notch, and it goes without saying that you can expect a large range of accessories to further enhance the Switchback

This is a motorcycle that will appeal to a wide range of buyers. It has the looks to entice the café crawlers, it is that bit lower and lighter so as to encourage the ladies to consider it as a step above a Sportster, and most obviously, the decent handling and quick remove bags and screen make it an attractive alternative to a Road King, given the much smaller price tag. A great looking, sweet handling cruiser, that can double as a part time tourer. Nice ergos, an array of up to the minute electronics, and yet still that classic Harley look, sound and idle shimmy. What more could you ask for? Rideaway price is reported to be $25,995 when released.


Would I buy one? If I wasn’t an impoverished internet typist, yes certainly. I’d carefully store the screen and add a more socially unacceptable muffler. I’d use it daily for errands and enjoy the weekends. Then, a couple of times a year, I’d put the screen back on, fuel up and head out into the wastelands. Oh yeah, and those parties I mentioned.

Click on any thumbnail image below to open gallery:


Harley-Davidson Switchback Specifications:

Engine: 103 cub inch (1690cc) Vee Twin
Transmission: Six speed.
Claimed Fuel Economy: 5.6l/100km (Combined City/Hwy)

Length: 2360mm
Seat Height: 663mm
Wheelbase: 1595mm
Fuel Capacity: 17.8 litres
Dry Weight: 320kg
– Front – Dunlop  130/70B18
– Rear – Dunlop 160/70B17


Action Images: Lou Martin
Static Images: Motoaus.com

Thank you to:

Harley-Davidson Australia
Haystac – Marie Claire
KBC Helmets


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